LAS VEGAS — All I heard on the way out here was that Team USA executive director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have a big problem with the recent withdrawal of big man Kevin Love, and what are they going to do at power forward?
Well, after watching the first practice, I think they have a second problem — but this is the good kind.
They have five point guards who can all flat-out play, and my guess is they can only pick three — which means two of them will get cut, and I just can’t imagine how tough of a decision that will be.
After the strong impression Derrick Rose made today, if he can stay focused, healthy and committed, I believe he will make it to Spain. He was once the league MVP; his coach, Tom Thibodeau, is on staff; and he is a tough Chicago kid, which is where both Colangelo and Coach K hail from. So I have to believe Rose will be a lock to make the team and probably be the starting point guard.
At the first practice Monday, I noticed at one point how Coach K put a group out there with Rose at the point, James Harden at the 2, Paul George as the small forward, Kevin Durant at the big forward spot and Anthony Davis at center.
I loved this group and have a sneaky suspicion this might have been a sneak preview of the starting five.
Back to the point guards. I believe the next lock will be Stephen Curry because he can also move over to the wing, and with his dead-eye shooting range he becomes exceptionally valuable for future zone busting – a big part of the international game.
Next is where it gets very interesting.
Kyrie Irving is a player I have known, studied, recruited and followed since he was in junior high. True story: I met his father, Drederick, when he was in college playing for Mike Jarvis at Boston University while I was the coach of Seton Hall. Kyrie basically grew up down the block in South Orange, N.J.
I actually gave him a basketball and a key to our gym trying to stand out when we were the only Big East or local school allowed to come in for a home visit. I heard Coach K came in the previous night with his Olympic team championship ring on top of all the national championship rings, and to this day I’m still trying to figure out how we lost the kid to Duke.
Basically I would say it would be an easy decision to pick Irving as the third and final point guard on the team as he is one of the great rising young superstars in the NBA, having already been the MVP in an All-Star Game and now being paired with the greatest player in the world in LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavs.
If I had to pick my three, that’s who I would select … except there’s a slight problem that can be summed up in two words: Damian Lillard, the young and unbelievably talented point guard originally from Oakland, where a few past Team USA point guards like Jason Kidd and Gary Payton hail from. Lillard is a guy who has such deep range on his 3-pointer that he, too, can slide over to the wing.
So now I believe there’s a real interesting dilemma here, and it may just come down to Irving or Lillard for final the final point guard spot. I have to believe that decision would be a real tough one for Coach K.
The next guy who I have not mentioned is not Russell Westbrook or Rajon Rondo, which tells you how deep the NBA is right now at the point guard position. The fifth guy? We’re talking about a $100 million guard in John Wall, who I personally love even though many critics have said he only plays at one speed and doesn’t shoot it well.
But watching him Monday, you can see that he is a much-improved shooter who has become a better, more mature leader.
And there is one thing he does better than all the other four point guards, which is why I love him so much: He pushes the ball up the floor faster and quicker than all the others. When you want to run and get fast break points, transition points and easy baskets and simply push the pace, I would pick Wall on that alone. Bring him in as a secret weapon — a human rocket to jump-start the team when needed.
So there you have it.
As I said, it’s a good problem to have, but I believe this is worth watching and seeing how this tight point guard battle will develop during the rest of the week. The best way for me to sum it up: You have all great choices, so no matter who you pick, you can’t go wrong.
A line that comes to mind is how I was once asked about recruiting some tough kids and some not-so-great choices, I said if you were going to cast a play in hell, then you certainly can’t use angels for actors. So this choice for the Team USA braintrust will be a tough one, but is truly Basketball Heaven.
Five other things that jumped out at me watching practice at the Thomas & Mack Center:
1. I was blown away at the improvement and versatility of Mason Plumlee of the Brooklyn Nets. He can put the ball on the deck and get to the basket extremely well for a big man and also runs rim to rim as well as anyone. I understand he’s on the Select Team, but I actually believe he should be considered over a few of the big men for Team USA.
2. I know I’m supposed to approach this as an objective media member writing a column, but the coach in me says I pick Kenneth Faried first, and then figure out the rest of the team. It was like watching flashes of the 2002 movie Knockaround Guys, where actor Vin Diesel gets in a bar fight with the meanest, toughest, nastiest dude in the place. Diesel says: “You learn a lot of things on the way to 500 fights, and none more important than this.” Then he hits the guy first, before he had the chance to even put his hands up. All I can say is I want Kenny Faried in a foxhole with me. Give me five of him and I will figure out a way to win.
3. While there is a point guard battle going on with the national team, the Select Team had young point guards who also did some damage today, further stressing that the future of the point position in the NBA is in good hands with Marcus Smart and Trey Burke.
4. I like Gordon Hayward as a player but couldn’t help thinking he’s a nice role player. He’s a great piece of the puzzle to have, but I’m very surprised he became a max salary player this summer.
5. Without LeBron James and others like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, this team will go only as far as Kevin Durant can take them because to me, he is the one irreplaceable guy on this team.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former NCAA Division I coach with Manhattan and Seton Hall. He has been writing columns for SheridanHoops since March 2014.